This story is part of a series on how getting fit and healthy can boost your bottom line.
Lighting up burns a big hole in your wallet. Buy a $7 pack of cigarettes a day, and you’re spending $2,555 a year. Over 20 years your tab skyrockets to $93,987, assuming prices rise by 6% a year. (Calculate your own bill at smokefree.gov/savings-future.) Higher health care costs deepen the financial damage—besides lung, throat, and other cancers, the list of costly conditions tied to smoking includes heart disease, strokes, and diabetes. According to the American Cancer Society, tobacco-related health care costs are $35 for every pack smoked.
And that’s not all. You’ll pay more for life insurance, and studies have shown that your earnings can suffer. A new study from researchers at Stanford concluded that smokers make $5 less per hour, on average, than nonsmokers and need more time to find a job when unemployed. An analysis by the website WalletHub found that, on average, smokers will lose at least $1.1 million to the habit over a lifetime—in some high-tax states, that total is a staggering $2 million.
Once you quit, repairs come quickly. “You reap health and cost benefits within one to three years,” says Michael Fiore, director of the Center for Tobacco Research and Intervention at the University of Wisconsin. Three years after kicking the habit, you can qualify for the best life insurance rates, says Byron Udell, CEO of insurance comparison site AccuQuote.com.
The best free help
While most smokers try to quit cold turkey, counseling or advice from a doctor can raise your chance of success by 40%, says Scott McIntosh, director of the Center for Tobacco-Free Finger Lakes. Call 800-QUIT-NOW to reach your state’s quit line. Coaches—who are often ex-smokers—can help with strategies and motivation, and many states offer two weeks of free over-the-counter nicotine replacement therapy, such as the patch, gum, or lozenges.
Check with your employer too: According to Kaiser, 71% of large firms have smoking cessation programs. Employers pay an average of $331, in the form of cash, HSA deposits, or lower premiums for participating, a 2016 survey by the National Business Group on Health and Fidelity Investments found.
Help worth paying for
A six-week course of nicotine replacement therapy runs $80 to $160. Several studies back the effectiveness of adding prescription drugs like Chantix and Zyban. Treatment, including counseling and nicotine replacement therapy, typically takes six weeks to six months. Zyban (generic: bupropion) can cost up to $330 out of pocket for a six-week treatment.
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Under the Affordable Care Act, most plans must cover 90 days of FDA-approved smoking cessation meds, including nicotine replacement, but many people trying to quit exceed that allotment.